EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo and other state and military officials held their annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter on Monday to honor the women and men who gave their lives fighting for this country.
It was a smaller tribute than usual this year but still as important as ever.
“As we stand in this holy place, knowing that the service members buried here represent for us, as a people, what sacrifice really looks like,” U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Eliseo Nogueras said.
Raimondo pointed to the uncertain times the country is facing as a reason why the quiet, intimate ceremony was perhaps even more special.
“We’ve come out today with our masks, few of us standing apart, but we’re here,” she said. “In some ways, it’s a more special ceremony because of that.”
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Kasim Yarn, the state’s director of Veterans Affairs, said normally, hundreds of volunteers help place flags on the 35,000 headstones of local veterans.
This year, because of the pandemic, it was done by just 13 people.
“We needed to remain vigilant in all social distancing practices,” Yarn said. “Due to meticulous planning of our cemetery staff, we were able to provide flags to the volunteers to place flags across all cemeteries, from our blessed state, honoring American heroes.”
“The truth is, in spite of the challenges we are facing this year, nothing is going to stop us from honoring our service members,” Raimondo added.
The governor asked everyone to take a moment on Monday to pay tribute to our fallen heroes, and to honor their sacrifice by living by the values of this nation.
“They gave up their lives for something huge,” said Dennis Bunker of Cranston, who was at the cemetery with his family to remember his father and grandfather.
“Most people don’t even think about it, just a three-day weekend, you know? A chance to grill at a barbecue,” he added. “My father and my grandfather stood for they they they believed in … something bigger.”
Following remarks from Raimondo, Yarn, and others, the ceremony concluded with the laying of commemorative wreaths followed by a firing of the volleys and playing of “Taps” by the Rhode Island Military Honors Team.
Raimondo also released a prerecorded message on Monday in which she, all four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, and other state leaders thank local service members and their families.
Raimondo did not hold her daily coronavirus briefing on Monday in observance of the solemn holiday, and the R.I. Department of Health did not release new COVID-19 data.
The next update is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday.